flowers, Nature & Wildlife, photography, Plants, Raised Beds, Secret Garden, Uncategorized

Where do ladybirds go in winter?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself lately.

I’ve noticed more ladybirds than ever in my garden this year.  They’ve popped up all over the place – in pots, under the bin lids, on doorframes, in the house, and – thankfully – on my plants, presumably feasting on any pests which would dare to come their way.  It’s no coincidence that I’ve barely noticed a single greenfly since the spring.

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They seemed particularly happy perching in and around the sunflower heads, especially the slightly dried-and-curled-up faded flowers which must give them plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide.

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They also – strangely – took to congregating in the multiple hose head thing which I installed to try and keep the plants watered while we were on holiday.  I’ve no idea why this was an attractive place to gather, but each time I looked in there were at least half a dozen piled into it.

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So, as the season has changed and the temperature’s dropped, I’ve been asking myself what’s going to happen to the ladybirds now?  Many of them still seemed to be hiding out in my faded sunflowers, and I needed to cut these down – but I didn’t want to disturb them or compost their winter hideaway.  And I don’t have a bug hotel in my garden which I could encourage them to populate instead.

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Apparently they do hibernate for the winter in various types of sheltered spots – tree bark, leaf litter etc.   They like crevices, leaves, bark, often low down.  So, having spent some time clearing the raised beds today, I did cut down the sunflowers, but took the heads of the flowers off first with a short section of stem and have piled them, and their little ladybird occupants, in a sheltered corner.  Hopefully the ladybirds will make themselves cosy there for the winter or can crawl away to the many trees and piles of leaves nearby which might make a more suitable winter holiday home.

I certainly hope they will wake up and return in the spring – it’s been a real joy to have a loveliness of ladybirds sharing my garden this year.

 

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flowers, Garden design, greenhouse, Nature & Wildlife, photography, Plants, Propagation, Secret Garden, Uncategorized

September Stars

It seems I have a late summer garden – there’s more colour on show in September than there has been during the rest of the year.

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The front garden is currently showing off all its colours – yellows, pinks, peachy dahlias and flashes of reds from the crocosmia, roses and even a few second-flowering geums.  I haven’t really planned a late summer garden, but each season I have been adding layers of colour and texture so there’s as much interest throughout the year as possible.  It looks like I’ve certainly been attracted to late season plants!

 

I do love my dahlias, of course, and they’re really hitting their stride at the moment.  I’m also really enjoying the echinaceas which are flourishing, the rudbeckias (still small, only sown this year) and the cosmos, which is a great gap filler.  I bought a couple of sedums several weeks ago and love to see the bees still busy around these flowers as they deepen in colour each day.  These are all being propped up by some of the shrubs and plants which may have finished flowering but are still providing essential structure and mass – the two cotinus, the damask rose, teasels and eryngium for example, whose spiky texture is also providing soft browns and purples.

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Some of my front garden plants have had a second wind, most likely due to the very warm summer we’ve had.  The geums I’ve already mentioned – these first bloomed in May I think and are still popping out a few flowers! The hot pink salvia is coming out again for another throw, along with the geranium ‘Lace Time’ with its pretty veined pink flowers.

 

But the stand-out repeat flowerer has to be the rose ‘Lady Marmalade’.  I might be wrong, but I think she’s currently in flower for the third time – and still looking beautiful.

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‘Lady Marmalade’

It’s lovely, as the summer slips away and the temperature starts to fall, that the hot colours are still warming up the garden.  I feel a bit sad about the season changing – I really loved the hot weather – but I can still enjoy the summer blooms.  Plus now is the time to collect seed, take cuttings and begin thinking about next year.  I know – it’s only September! – but I’m already thinking of what I want to grow and/or sell in the Secret Garden next spring and what I will add to the borders, front and back, to keep building those layers of colour, texture and foliage.

The hit list for next year includes more Stachys byzantina for its gorgeous soft leaves and rich pink flowers; more Verbena bonariensis as it’s so bee-friendly, the usual cosmos, sweet peas and aquilegia, and a plan for some new plants – Sanguisorba (inspired by a recent visit to Cambo’s walled garden) and Cerinthe major (which I loved at Chelsea).  I’ll also be sowing some Stipa tenuissima as I want to add some more soft grasses and I just love the texture and movement of this feathery grass.

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Sanguisorba and Stipa tenuissima in the beautiful perennial borders at Cambo

And that’s just a small selection of the seed packets I currently have spread out across my dining room table!  There will be a lull around November/December but between now and next spring there’s a lot of sowing and growing to do.  If you want me, I’ll be in the greenhouse…

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flowers, Garden design, Nature & Wildlife, Plants, Propagation, Uncategorized

Playing the long game…

Gardening is a lesson in playing the long game.

I’m a quick-fix, instant-gratification type of person, so my growing love of the garden has brought with it an appreciation for taking things a bit slower.  For taking the long view and planning ahead for the same season, the next season, the next year, the next few years…

Very few aspects of gardening are instant.  You can buy a fully grown plant in a pot and have instant colour.  Buy a few of them and you’ve got instant impact.  But like many ‘instant’ things in life, the satisfaction is fleeting.

I’m learning to love the long game.  I have no choice, really, as I don’t have the budget for an instant garden!  But even if I did, I think I would still choose to plan and sow, make careful selections and take the time to move and shape things over the course of days, weeks and months.

Take delphiniums for example.  I have sown many of these this year, some to share and sell, others will hopefully find a home in my garden,  but I am taking the time to grow these in pots until they’re large and healthy and can withstand the assaults of the various snails and slugs patrolling my front garden.  It’s true, even large plants can be decimated by the jaws of a hungry gastropod, but the larger ones stand a better chance of survival.  As an experiment, I planted out a few young delphiniums into the front border and in a matter of days – as I suspected – they’d been torn to shreds.

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Delphiniums…worth waiting for (as this bee will testify) 

This border itself is another example.  In many ways I wish I could blow the bank account and buy dozens of plants to fill the bare soil still showing in the front…and yet by sowing and propagating, along with some careful bargain-spotting at plant sales and garden centres, I’ve managed to gradually fill gaps in around two thirds of the garden so far.  I like seeing it take shape gradually, and it gives me time to pause and redesign areas which aren’t working, or try new ideas when I’m inspired by a photo or magazine article.

In that very border are two mature philadelphus shrubs.  Last autumn I pruned them hard – knowing this would mean no flowering for at least a year.  They had flowered poorly the previous summer anyway and were congested and overgrown.  So I played the long game – removing most of the older stems and branches to leave a healthy selection of wood with a far better structure.  I’ve missed the flowers but hopefully next year I’ll find out if my hard work has paid off and be rewarded with a much healthier and better flowering plant.

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The front border is filling up slowly but surely…

My studies are part of my long-term plans too.  Much as I would like to, I can’t train in horticulture full-time – work and family commitments demand my time and ensure an income.  But I can take little steps forward – studying for half an hour each morning, taking a couple of exams every few months…inching forward towards a qualification which might come in useful, or might simply make me a better gardener.  Either way, I’m enjoying the process and I know that the theoretical learning is going hand in hand with what I’m practicing over time in my own garden.

This week I sowed biennials – again, another long wait to see how they’ll turn out.  Biennial plants flower the season after sowing, so the foxgloves and hesperis seeds I’ve sown now won’t flower until next spring and will need cared for in the greenhouse during autumn and winter.  But it will be worth it when they’re finally planted out in the garden, proving colour and scent and encouraging insects and wildlife.

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The teasels I sowed at the end of last summer are making an appearance now

So yes, even though ‘instant’ gardening can be a good thing, playing the long game is better for me – it slows me down and asks me to think and plan and anticipate what’s to come.  When many other aspects of my life seem to be whizzing past at speed, I’m grateful for the garden, which slows me down and helps me to appreciate what I have in front of me.

 

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Nature & Wildlife, Uncategorized

Shinrin-yoku: forest bathing

Tree-huggers and leaf lovers, come this way…

After a week of house arrest due to the snow, then frantic work days catching up after the snow, plus too much talking, eating, drinking, thinking and social-media-ing I decided that the best and quickest way to feed my soul and enter recovery mode was a good solid walk in the woods .

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The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, which means ‘forest bathing’ and I can’t think of a better way to describe the act of putting on a pair of boots and walking alone amongst trees, fields and birdsong.  It’s been a thing in Japan since the 80s and its aim is to encourage a healthier lifestyle by taking walks in specially designated forests.  Forest bathing is not just about relaxation, although that’s a big part of it; studies have been done by Japanese scientists which show it can improve your physical health by boosting immune systems, reducing stress hormones, enhancing mental wellness and brain health. It might even blood glucose levels among diabetes sufferers.

I can certainly report it’s good for my soul as well as my health.  I always find something  in the woods to make me smile – today it was a flock of geese which passed so low overhead I could hear their wings beating.  And I also spotted lots of little chewed cones and nut remnants lying on the path which made me look up and wonder if there had been a little squirrel feast overhead.

I’m now wishing I had taken a photo of these…but then part of the joy of forest bathing is sometimes stopping to take photos, and sometimes simply enjoying the moment and not viewing it through a lens.

So I walked, breathed, greeted a couple of friendly dog walkers, and felt the sun on my back – it was wonderful.  I am extremely fortunate to have a number of woods just a short distance from home – I can leave my doorstep and walk to one of three woods within 5 minutes and if I ever got bored of these I could jump in the car and drive north to Big Tree Country in Perthshire, where there are some fantastic forests and woods to walk in.

However I do have a growing desire to visit Japan for some authentic forest-bathing.  I’ve been fascinated by the country and its culture for a long time and the more I read about it, the more I want to experience it for myself.  The Japanese relax by gazing at trees, lying on logs and breathing in forest smells.  Not to mention their cherry blossom festivals, zen gardens and moss meditation… for a garden-loving introvert it sounds like heaven!

For now though I will grab any opportunity I can to gaze at a Scots pine or my own (not-so-zen) garden.  Now the snow is melting the signs of Spring are showing up again at last.

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Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized

Curly wurly

I’m noticing a certain kind of shape around me at the moment – for the past few days I’ve been spotting curls and twists, exposed I suppose by the bare branches of winter.

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One that I notice daily is the contorted hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’which is right outside our back door.  This large shrub is also known as a twisted or corkscrew hazel and by the nickname of ‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’, after a Scottish entertainer who apparently used to carry a walking stick made from a branch of the shrub.

Only a couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast of Gardener’s Question Time and this plant came up – one of the panellists revealed that the twisted hazel was first discovered by a drunken vicar, who fell into a hedge, looked up and saw the contorted stems.  So he took a cutting, grew the plant and that’s how it’s ended up in many of our gardens (according to Chris Beardshaw!).

It’s a fascinating shrub to look at, but especially in winter, when you can see the exposed shapes of the branches, and then in spring when little yellow catkins appear.  Even its leaves are quite bumpy and textured so it’s well worth having one in the garden for year-round interest.  You can even bring it indoors – sort of.  I’ve pruned a few branches from mine as each year it throws up a few vertically, which is out of keeping with its general weeping shape; so I’ve put the pruned shoots into glass vases so I can admire the twists and turns inside as well as out.

And now it appears I’m being followed by twisted branches… on a visit to the hospital last week to donate blood I noticed a twisted hazel in one of the flower beds in the grounds.

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It looks quite good with the background of the brighter green conifer.

Then on a walk around the village a few days later, I looked up and noticed these striking trees in someone’s garden:

IMG_0730.jpgI’m not certain if these are hazel or not – I expect this is the ‘tree’ version of my medium-sized shrub.   I couldn’t get close enough to check but they make a fantastic silhouette against the winter sky.

Finally, one of my favourite little plants in my garden, this little grass…

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…which is Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ and provides a wee corner of interest in its spot in the front garden all year round.  At this time of year its little curls bounce around in the wind and towards the end of last summer it provided a brilliant backdrop for the chocolate cosmos I planted next to it.

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So there you have it, everything’s a bit twirly at the moment and I like it.  Nature really doesn’t do straight lines and what’s more interesting for your winter garden than a twisty, turny, curly, wurly plant to make you stop and look for a while…

 

 

 

 

 

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flowers, Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants

A day in Edinburgh

When I’m not in the garden I do my best to hold down a job, working in communications.  Today I’ve been in Edinburgh at a PR festival, in an attempt to learn a bit more about my profession and do some networking. So I’ve spent the day listening to PR experts discuss the media, politics, best practice and public affairs.

Here are the highlights of my day:


sorry it’s not too clear – it was hard to get close!

Make sense? Nope, not to me either! I realised by the time I got onto the train home this evening (where I’m typing this post!) that all the things that have made me smile today have been to do with gardens or nature.  Walking through Princes Street Gardens this morning I noticed most of their roses are blooming and enjoyed seeing new cosmos plants being put into the borders around a fountain.

At lunch I escaped all the people and went in search of cake, which I found at the fantastic cafe Love Crumbs. As I ate I looked out of the window to a courtyard below which was full of plants but looking a bit scruffy. I wished I could get my hands on it to pull the weeds and tidy up the plants which were in need of a bit of tlc. I also stopped in at the second hand bookshops to indulge my love of old-fashioned gardening books and found this:


Who better to get some wisdom from than the grande dame of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll?!

Later, on the way back through the grounds of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert I spotted, an instantly fell in love with, a lovely double-petalled geranium. And to crown it all I saw a family of magpies!  They were floating through the trees the way they seem to do on those black and white wings, the youngsters calling to the parents; they stopped under a bench for some crumbs presumably left from lunchtime, the older birds feeding the fledglings. It was fantastic – the first time I’ve ever seen six magpies together – a whole family.

And now, as I type this on the train I have in front of me a copy of Garden News which I brought with me to read…and inside is Carol Klein, describing one of her favourite geraniums, Plenum Violaceum, a double variety of a meadow cranesbill!


So it’s been an interesting day. I expected to come home buzzing with enthusiasm for public relations and communications practice. And I have to admit I did enjoy the conference and learned a few things.

However, what I’ve been most excited about is all the green stuff I’ve seen, new plants and books I’ve discovered and an awesome bird-spot.  Whatever this all adds up to, it’s been a good day.

Beetroot & Coconut cake with Earl Grey

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